Sep 30, 2009

That Time of Year..

Will be here...

for the next 9 days...

bon voyage!

Sep 28, 2009

Welcome Baby J!...and other joys.

Those of you with freedom of speech heed these words: have a thankful heart!

I just shelled out 60 bucks for 6 months of a VPN service that supposedly blocks my internet location so doesn't know I'm surfing the internet from within their borders. I spent forever communicating with a live-help guru last night and finally got it set up, only to have it be blocked by China. Awesome. Today when I got home from work, I checked again, assuming that I would ask for the money back if it was not working, but here I am! Able to access facebook, blogger, and my email. I only went 6 days without those internet sites, but it felt like forever since unfortunately FB and this are my only real ways to communicate with friends back home. I felt like I had been lost forever! Dramatic? Yes. But true, nonetheless. So glory, glory, hallelujah for now. I'm back again on the most surfed internet sights as long as my current country doesn't get a whiff of my presence. shhhhh.

The last week was awesomely busy, friend-filled, and full of celebration. Which of course means that I got nothing done on my thesis. But with no regrets.

Thursday I spent almost the whole day in bed feeling like I was about to die. The pain in my foot has been getting worse and worse and I have begun to take some of the other medication that my Chinese doctor friends gave me. These little blue pills make me feel like a sloth. I physically can't move or think or barely gather the gumption to even go to the bathroom. I just laid in bed, staring at my coveted ceiling fan whirl and thinking, "when will this get better?"
Luckily Hannah called and her, Seneca and I ventured to the famed french restaurant in town, "Provence". I live for that place. They have salad. And bread with butter. And apple martinis. And lasagna. It's like dying and going to heaven after your millionth bowl of noodles! We had a great night and I went back to Hannah's for some movies and girl talk. MUCH needed with the amount of testosterone I am around 24/7.

Friday I woke earlyyyyy and went home to shower and bake the last of my American baked goods from home. I made a package of the boxed Jiffy cornbread and headed to pick up Alexina and Patricia for Anne's baby shower! It was a gorgeous gathering of ladies from the international chu.rch. Being surrounded by strong women from countries near and far was very uplifting. That is one of my favorite things about living here. I went to a woman from Nigeria's baby shower with other women in attendance from Mexico, Spain, Singapore, Malaysia, Ta.i.wan, Ghana, Australia, and the Bahamas. There were 2 of us Americans. Me and Jeanette, the 55 year old African American from Charleston who can belt a Sunday tune like none other. We sat together during our chorus of praise songs as we sang thanksgiving for Anne's baby and wished to above for a healthy delivery. She tap tap tapped on my knee and leaned back as her volume rose and she belt out those good old southern musical notes. Full of praise and laden with passion. I love those women and I am thankful that they include me in their joyous festivities.

After the shower was over Alexina, Joyce, and I headed to a coffee shop to chat since Joyce was leaving Monday (today) for her college in England. We chatted and sipped and talked about babies until the rush-hour cab rush was over and we could find a willing driver to take us across town. I went back to Alexina's dorm at Zhejiang University and hug out with her friends and reminisced about dorm life until it was time to meet Hannah and the Lutherans at the Maya Bar. It was a huge group of friends, old and new, foreign and chinese and we kept having to add tables to accomodate everyone. It made me really happy to recognize old faces. It's almost like no time has passed, only Jing and Patty are not here to laugh with me at ridiculous China occurrences. :(

After the Maya crowd dispersed it was off to HOD to introduce Becca and Seneca to the wonder that is HOD. They loved the "chineseyness" off it and had just as much fun as I do people watching and meeting random people. I loved seeing an old pal, who happens to be the manager and one of my favorite shui ge's in Hangzhou. It was a full, good day of relationships and a beautiful reminder of the amazing people that call this place home.

Saturday was for resting and recovering from a late night out until noon when I headed to the furniture market with two co-workers. We bargained and battered our way to owning 2 desk chairs (for them) and a strip of bed padding (for me).

Saturday nights are reserved for Book Study with the girls. It is a time I have come to cherish this semester so much that it is known not to call me until after 8 on a Saturday night. I'm busy, Learning with the girls about the important things in life.

Saturday night I taxied across town to Kai's house to pick up my ticket for my travels this week. I texted him asking what station I should go to to buy my ticket, since there are 4 stations and the online schedule is in Chinese. Next thing I know, his mother has gone to the station to buy my ticket for me. His mother. Mother. Oh dear. He is so good to me. Since I have been hurt he has done my dishes, cooked for me, taken me out, been a constant support system on my darkest days of self-pity and physical pain and now his family has bought my ticket for my travels. Life is strange, but quite enjoyable.

Sunday was a make-believe Wednesday because in when there are national holidays you have to make them up on the weekends. So the graduate teachers must work Sunday to Wednesday 6:30 am to 4:30 pm. It's a long day. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the National Holiday begins Wednesday and I'll be off on a vacation from the 30th to the 9th. whoooo.

Today is a co-workers birthday and we had a little get the HDU foreign teachers minus 1...


Sep 23, 2009


Another 3 days and 236 students later, I'm pooped.

This week was fun though because in my first class with my new students (last week) I gave them the homework assignment to give themselves an English name to be used in class. This is generally a fun thing for them to choose a name that is all their own and "exotic" sounding. I share my Chinese name with them, in hopes that they don't think I am trying to "westernize" them.

Sidenote: My name is Ke Xiao Mei. And I love it! A lady from my chu.rch gave me this name. Ke is the family name, same as hers. Xiao means the morning, dawn, or the point when the sun reaches the horizon. Mei is a kind of flower that is native to Hangzhou, my home in To the Chinese ear, it literally means, "flower blooming in the morning".

So I began class today by having my students introduce to me their English name and why they chose it. There was the expected bunch of "Allen"'s after Allen Iverson and "Bruce"'s after Bruce Lee. Many "James"'s for James Bond and girls love fruit and flowers, "Cherry", "Mango", "Rose", and "Lily" are all popular.

The student who wanted, "a name to rock someone" chose to call himself, "Wind". I think it's great. I also have a male student named Constantine. And a Lucifer. I accidentally laughed when I saw Lucifer write his name and asked him if he knew what it meant. He said yes and went into a detailed explaination..."Lucifer is a fallen angel and everyone has problems like me so I like the name because he is a fallen angel." Well, that makes sense to me, I guess.

I was a little disappointed in the lack of weird, off the wall names. haha. The strangest I have this year (besides Lucifer and Wind) are guys named Fish, Constantine, Lock, and Bell. One girl names herself Kachisha. I told her it sounds Russian and she explained that she wants this name because her Chinese name is very simple and she wants a more interesting English name. haha. Kachusha.

In other news: Today I was planning to have dinner with some friends out at Huanglong Stadium. I stood by the street for over 30 minutes waiting for a taxi and finally gave up. I can't wait til I can ride my bike again, this foot is taking forever to heal, or even feel a tiny bit better. Working on it all day isn't helping. I think this is one time where my stubbornness may get the best of me.

Also, plans for the upcoming National Holiday have been bouncing around. Me and the infamous CREW planned to travel 40 hours by train each way to the Sichuan Province; home of pandas, spicy food, and word's most giant Buddha carved into a mountain side. Because does not have their ticket system online (dumb) I waited in a line for over an hour only to be denied a ticket and yelled (kaui dian! "hurry up") at by the people waiting behind me. Oh Well. Because we are the CREW and are used to having 98547358974 itineraries for any given trip, we are now planning to escape to the island oasis of Xiamen. It is the gateway into T..a.i.won. Today's plan is to purchase a bus ticket. Hopefully this will go better than the train ticket attempt. haha. If not, I'm sure we will come up with something else just as awesome. We always do. It always works out. The plan for traveling constantly migrating country is to be as fluid as possible...rolling with the wind (or smog).

I have also given in and decided to drink the Chinese medicine given to us foreign teachers to prevent swine flu. Yesterday my throat was hurting and I felt weird. I knew if I got sick that they would ask me if I drank the "bittery" tea, so I gave in. I opened the plastic bag and emptied it into a ceramic bowl, warmed it in the microwave and drank it with a diet coke chaser. Not too bad. Cheers.

Things are rolling along. I've given up constant wonder for routine and I think I like it. I am glad to experience China in both ways. This week has reestablished my thought from last year that a person can do anything for a year, but it is after the wonder and newness subsides that the real test of survival begins. I like knowing Hangzhou like it is my home, like I belong here, and not like it is some exotic local that I just happen to be existing in temporarily.

I also found out today that the two new dude foreign teachers at my school are a couple. That makes me the only young, straight, non-super serious relationship (depending on the day) teacher under the age of 50. Awesome.

Things on the thesis-front are rather slow. I am hoping to be done with a draft by Wednesday, the day I go to Xiamen for a week. Let's see how that goes. Oh APA style, how you torture me. Those 4 years spent under the MLA doctrine at Flagler are of no help to me now that I am so close to my master's degree. It's ok, though, I am actually enjoying my thesis process, which I think is monumental to be able to admit. I love my thesis. whoooo Chinese babies galore.

babies, funny student names, interesting co-workers, travel plans on the horizon, life is good in the Red Country.

Sep 22, 2009

Poems and Commies and Doctors.

I'm looking through old files on my computer and found this old poem written after my first trip to China, summer 2007.

"Red Dirt."

I think my heart leaves a trail of red dirt.

I am a consumed person since having traveled into the Red country.

Now all I can do is wallow around thinking and discussing and preaching and debating the country I cannot seem to purge from my veins.

It’s swimming, swimming in me.

Traveling from my heart in a linear motion to my feet.

And leaving a trail of red dirt wherever I go.

It’s either my ground up heart, or the remnants of China that are left behind.

It is strange how a place so far away could have ruined me, and yet

Made me come alive.

Could have changed my course forever and stolen my previous dreams.

It’s that red dirt.

Reminding me of people far away who I do not understand.

But love.

I’m drawn to the red dirt and I don’t know why.

But I will go.

Even if it scares me to death.

I'll live on the red dirt, because it is my purpose.

I think after all that China and I have been through these past 3 years, from planning and fundraising the trip to Ningxia with Intervarsity to having an address here, it has been a dream come true. Often I walk around thinking, 'why me, God?', 'why do I get this life?' 'why am I a 5'10" boisterous redhead in China?'

But most days when I walk outside and breathe in the smog, I know that this is it. This is what was meant to happen, even if it doesn't always make sense. What a beautiful feeling, huh? I hope that for everyone.

Today I had lunch with an old friend who happens to be a student at my university. He is the president of the student union (I'm not sure about that translation - though, how are there unions in China?) and I met him through another teacher last year.

We sat down eating aloe and milk soup (delish) and discussing his plans to go to America for graduate school. If all things go as planned, he will be a member of Yale's Class of 2012 graduate students.

We talked about his father's job in the government as an anti-corruption officer, his knowledge that as a Party member and because of his father's job he could become a "governor" easily, and about the differences in what Americans and Chinese hope for their future.

He was surprisingly introspective and even allowed me to express my differences in opinion about the Nobel Peace Prize designation to the Dalai. Lma. He was angry about it. I was indifferent but supportive. And we sat and slurped our soup.

And I thought to myself, 'thank you, Lord for this day, for these people, for different ideas and opinions, and for the chance to learn from this college student with big dreams. But mostly, thank you for aloe soup.'

Tonight two of the three doctors that I meet with each week came to my house. They brought me moon cakes for the upcoming Chinese National Holiday. I decided that I need to work on my "you shouldn't have!" face because whenever I gasp in excitement over a gift that is presented to me, Chinese people that that I don't like it. hmmmm.

We sat on my floor and talked about the Grand Canyon and poodles and boys and marriage and how I have been fat my whole life and my fractured foot. It was just like last year and felt like no time had passed. I remember the last time I saw them in the beginning of June I thought to myself, "what if something happens and I can't come back to China and I never see them again?" I was paranoid of this because I love these people with all my being. It was so nice to be reunited.

Here on the Red Dirt.

Sep 19, 2009


"When I first meet you, I think, "American woman is stronger than Chinese man."

(a Chinese acquaintance.)


Oink, Oink.

Every time I walk through the gate of my university I get a gun held to my head. I smile and close my eyes while the guard uses his weapon to check my temperature. He laughs at me, then nods his head and lets me pass through.

These guns have been distributed throughout the university systems in China to help ward off the infamous swine flu. So far 16 people at my university have been diagnosed with the flu (that have been made public, who knows what the real number is). Mind you, there are over 30,000 students at the university.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the flu (and freak everyone out) several attempts at minimizing the risk of catching the flu have been made. All elevators have been turned off. Which means me and my fractured foot get to walk up 10 flights of stairs to my weekly meeting in the library. The air conditioner in the teacher's cafeteria has been shut down, which is the only air conditioned place on campus in our sweltering summer heat. And "special Chinese tea" has been distributed to all teachers to drink within a week. The taste has been described as "a little bittery" but no one can tell us what is in it. They don't know. I'm not drinking it

I am guilty of being severely skeptical of these attempts at keeping swine flu at bay. I know that in classrooms all across the world there are efforts being made to "increase social space" and keep everyone healthy, which is a valiant goal. But what really irks me is the fear that I find is such a - I need to be careful here - Chi.nese characteristic.

I have students who when someone coughs in class, freak out and pull out face masks. Several students have told me, "I am afraid of swine flu". People are living in fear of a sickness that closely resembles the average flu.

There is an entire area of our university that has been set aside for students who had a high temperature when coming through the gate. They have to stay in these rooms for a week and are brought food. One Chinese student explained that she was jealous of her roommate for being quarantined because she, "got 4 meals a day".

Next week was supposed to be a big singing, band, type competition on campus. Several of my friends are in the guitar club and expressed sadness at the cancellation of the event because of fears of having so many people together in one space. I'm so sad that school events are being cancelled because of fear of swine flu.

My advice to you, Ch.ina, is this. Put soap in the bathrooms. Stop hawking loogies. Throw away your trash in a proper receptacle.

Take some vitamins, drink plenty of water, and chill out.

Until you do, I will smile at the guard who has the glorious task of taking my temperature every time I want to come home.

Sep 17, 2009


Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew. ~ Christopher Logue

I'm baaaaaack.

It's amazing how Hangzhou feels like home. It's good to be here. To be back in a city that is bustling with people, but hardly ever overwhelming. I love the sounds of the water truck singing the "birthday song" and finding new pirated dvd stores. I love the Muslim family where I get Muslim noodles, I can't believe how BIG the sons have gotten in the past 3 months! I love that when I went to buy a milk tea and some bread from familiar faces, they exclaimed, "Ni Hui Lai!
(You came back!) I like my 'hood, I like my people, I like my home, and I LOVE my bunny!

(Good bye Tampa!)

The first night back in Hangzhou after spending the night in Shanghai, I went salsa dancing with my friend Angel. I met a lot of awesome people and saw some familiar Chinese faces and was reminded of the fast pace of life here from last year. After 3 months of sitting on my butt, Hangzhou is a little overwhelming! haha.

As amazing as it was to be back, my joyful return took a turn for the dark side on my second day in Hangzhou when my purse was stolen out of my cart in the grocery store and I fractured my ankle on the walk home, all within the same hour. I spent the evening in the local hospital (note to self: NEVER go to a Chinese hospital again) getting x-rays and being wheeled around in a wheelchair. There were glimpses of humor in the situation as fellow hospital go-ers asked me to take photos with them. I guess a redhead in a wheelchair is a hot commodity for the cell-phone photo cache. I decided in a fit of despair that I did not want to be here, that returning to China was a dumb mistake, that I was not cut out for this again and that living on the 5th floor with a fractured foot was impossible. It took one good cry to mom via skype and 3 friends to call within an hour checking on me to realize that this could happen anywhere and that bad things happen to everyone. (cue: "suck it up, Jessica").

I now mostly sit in my apartment, pretending to work on my thesis, waiting for my foot to get better, and having multiple guests each day. I have been reminded how provided for I am here because there are many people who have brought me food, cared for me, called me daily, and expressed their love. It is weird, but I feel more community here in Hangzhou than at home through this experience. I am reminded that everywhere we go in life we will not be stranded. There are good people everywhere. I am so thankful for my Hangzhou friends who sit with me, laugh with me, and make fun of my lack of ability to walk on crutches.

Classes at the university began this week. I met about 240 students in 8 classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I love love love my job, so it was a good distraction from my dumb foot, except for when I retired home each day with a purple foot from standing on it all day. I'm excited about beginning the new year with my new students, even though it takes about a zillion bolts of energy to begin to forge relationships with these new students, most of whom have never encountered someone from another country before. Their homework for this week is to choose an english name for themselves, It should be interesting to see what they come up with next week! One student emailed me that he wants a name "that will rock somebody". haha. I love my job.

It's been an interesting welcome back to Hangzhou, but despite the low points, there are infinite good things. I'm excited for this year, to find my routine, and to be settled. There is no fear this time around, no anxiety about how to survive, there's much less emotional hullabaloo. Im here. This is where I live. And there is no where else in the world I would rather be today than Hangzhou, China.